My Graphic Grief

I’ve had the absolute privilege to organize and direct exhibition activities from Shanghai to Shenzhen, from Munich to Mumbai, from San Diego, San Jose and beyond.  No matter the location, I just can’t seem to get over my, “graphic grief.”

 Graphic grief can be debilitating for anyone responsible for managing their company’s trade show involvement. At times, many of us have been known to succumb to this scourge by allowing ourselves to produce graphics with headlines that involve a big yawn, teeny tiny text that rambles, and imagery that lacks the creative and instead defaults to generic pictures and cliché slogans that add no compelling or differentiated value. Given the large investment your company makes in booth space and structure, as well as the growing cost of show services and staffing the booth, not taking the time to treat graphic grief would be regrettable.

 Don’t despair. There is a cure. This month’s letter is being prescribed to help you grapple with the grief of your graphics, while injecting a few laughs for good measure. Blast-off…

 A trade show is a controlled circus. Decades ago I was walking down the aisle of a major trade exhibition and a realization hit me like a barrage of Jolly Ranchers® flying out of exhibitors’ candy dishes: a trade show is a controlled circus. With a huge, Jack Nicholson-like crazy man grin on my face, I thought to myself…

 “Dang it! Each booth is like a cage. Each cage has nicely coiffed guys and gals pawing at the end of their booth carpets, dangling their brightest smiles and impeccable manners. Each of these well-meaning lions wants to lower me into their lair and devour my intellectual carcass by painfully regurgitating features of their products. These lions eagerly anticipate that I will be swallowed up by their sheer genius of how they decode their graphic mess of messages that are most often being secured in the back of the booth, safe from competitors’ shifty eyes. Others will only communicate the secret value of their special sauce in their secluded dens of knowledge (aka, booth conference room).”

 Fast forward, three decades later. I attended another trade show for a completely different industry and the same circus runs a mock. My advice is the same now as it would have been to the pride if I could only have wiped that dastardly smirk off my face. “Make your message---and your investment--- count. Unleash your lions! Collaborate with your guests and stop the graphic grief! Run free, my graphic child. You will not fall prey by clearly and concisely showcasing your knowledge in a compelling, relevant, concise and thought provoking manner!”

 A graphic is not a print advertisement.

  • Less is more. Keep your text concise and your overall graphic appeal impactful. A graphic is not a technical paper, but should be employed to elicit questions, discussions, and follow-up that could be technical, market or sales-related.
  •  Like a fine wine, let your graphics breath! There is no sin in purposely allowing some white space to visually showcase relevant imagery and concise text.
  • Fonts are your friends when applied wisely. This includes staying true to established and essential corporate identity guidelines. These guidelines should specify the type and size ranges of the font to be used, as well as include an established color palette.  The overall tone of the company’s communications (both imagery and text) should also be considered as part of the corporate identity that should consistently translate to all media.
  • Save the in-depth technical content for your support literature or website. Furthermore, should detailed content be absolutely necessary at the booth, such information should be delineated within the support literature, app or website to help facilitate conversations with highly qualified leads.

Stop the chest beating. It amazes me at the number of booths that have their key messages hidden amongst the chest beating themes of, “leading supplier,” “number one widget,” “global coverage,” and “innovative solutions,” to name just a few of the vanilla clichés that get tossed about the main headline of graphics. Now don’t get me wrong, a little commercial kudos to your company is all fine and good…and most often expected by the higher ups. However, did you ever stop and consider:

  • Have my potential booth guests read the same thing time-after-time while grazing at prior cages? Well of course they have!
  • Does my chest beating truly differentiate my product, service or company? Most times the answer is a BIG NO.
  • In the rare cases your self-congratulatory pat is a relevant differentiator, is it the most important statement to be splashed as the main headline? Of course not!
  • How does this chest beating add value to your customer’s need? It doesn’t and in some cases the perceived vanity your graphic inadvertently communicates is scoffed at or worse, opens a Pandora’s box discussion of when your company was considered “number one,” in a manner you never intended.

Don’t let customers coast by your booth.

  • Consider each of your graphics to be a billboard on a congested highway filled with other billboards, traffic signs and various construction detours along the way. At best, you have three seconds to gain the visitors attention to read the headline. If they find your message to be intriguing, they may read the additional text and related images.
  • Don’t go cheap. Have professionals design and produce your high quality graphics. It’s your company’s image hanging on that booth wall or LED screen. How you present your message is a direct reflection of your market leadership, knowledge and commitment to the industries served.
  • Ensure graphic is two feet off the floor and not competing with potted plants and your nicely polished shoes. The vast majority of your graphic should be eye level, whereas visitors will read your graphics as they do a billboard or magazine which is left to right (excluding parts of Asia) and from top to bottom.

 Interactive modules and videos: Both can be extremely beneficial, although many times the placement of these tools are not aligned with the key reason you decided to exhibit in the first place. Spending big bucks on a show to introduce your latest new product or service has the potential of being obscured because some blue suit wanted to show the fancy new corporate video or fell in love with a new app that at best is secondary to the actual product or service being introduced. Of course, you want to include such interactive tools, just be careful of making them the focal point of your booth.

 Graphic grief is a common, yet curable disease by prescribing to the above recommendations. As always, watch your dosage and repeat for each show.